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Hassan’s Tale, Part 15 – Buried Treasure

As I approached I slowed, and finally stopped at the driveway, in the exact spot where – long ago – our family car had exploded with my mother in it.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14

See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.

 

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Jamilah shook her head in wonderment. In 2002, when Hassan had been released from prison, she’d still been in high school. And yet Hassan had been been through so much already by that time. She wondered if he could ever truly relate to her on a personal level. Does he see me as an equal, she wondered? Or am I a child to him?

“What happened to my namesake?”Jamilah said. “To Jamil? Do you know?”

Hassan nodded. “I heard through the grapevine that he’s in a low security facility in Fort Worth.”

“You mean he’s still locked up?”

“What grapevine?” Muhammad asked.

“Ex-cons I’ve run into. You know Asante from the masjid?”

“Mm, yeah,” Layth said. “Built like a linebacker.”

Hassan nodded. “He was in El Reno. I’ve met others at the Oakland masjid and even on the street. I saw Cutter living in a homeless encampment in China Basin. He looked like a junkie. I rode by and he didn’t recognize me. I just kept going.”

“When will Jamil get out?” Jamilah asked.

“Allahu a’lam,” Hassan said. “Maybe never. He killed two men during a drug deal when he was eighteen, before he became Muslim. He has a life sentence.” 

“Oh.” Jamilah felt her heart sink. “That doesn’t seem fair. Don’t they take into account that he’s a different person now?”

“Jamil would disagree with you about it not being fair,” Hasan said. “He’d say that he took two human lives and that there’s never a day when he’s not conscious of that, and that ‘fair’ does not always apply in this dunya, and that the dunya is a prison for the believer in any case, so what’s one prison inside another? And he would say that in the end it’s in Allah’s hands, and Allah will do what He wills. When Allah wants Jamil out, he’ll be out.”

“I see why you wanted us to know about him,” Layth said.

“He was a second father to me,” Hassan said. “The day I got out he hugged me and said, ‘Remember, Allah is with you out there, just like He was with you in here. He cares about you. You have a purpose. Find it. When you’re out of ideas, ask Allah.’

I needed to hear that, because I had no life plan beyond finding whatever my father had left for me, if indeed he had left anything at all.

I arrived at the San Francisco airport and immediately caught a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles. I still wore the clothes I’d been arrested in – they’d been returned to me on my release – and they didn’t fit. I’d packed on seventy pounds of muscle in prison. My legs were tree trunks and my shoulders were bowling balls.” 

*** 

“You look like that now,” Muhammad said.

“No, I was bigger then. Seven years of lifting weights will do that. My pants were about to split, and my shirt was stretched across my chest. But I didn’t care.

On the bus, a man kept talking to himself, muttering about a yellow cat and how it was following him. Other passengers glanced at him in surreptitious concern, while others ignored him. As for me, I didn’t care.

In the seat in front of me, a baby cried. The mother sang a lullaby, but he continued bawling. I didn’t care.

The bus was air conditioned and grew chilly, but again, I didn’t care. None of that mattered. I was dazed, feeling like the world was a waking dream.

America itself – the land of my idyllic, if strange childhood – had seemed like a dream for so long. America was a distant memory of a land of ketchup, banana splits and building sand castles on the beach while Charlie tried to knock them down. A land of family. And of course, a land of imprisonment.

And now here I was, free to go and do as I wished. It didn’t seem real. I had a deep fear that it was literally a dream, and that I would wake up in my cramped cell in El Reno, hearing the six a.m. work alarm and the pounding of prisoners’ boots on the steel tiers outside. And if this wasn’t a dream, then surely the FBI would realize they had been duped, and that I was not in fact Hassan Amir. Any moment they would stop the bus and drag me off. They’d send me back to Turkey, where I would find myself once again in… that place.

The mother in front of me put her baby on her shoulder and patted him on the back, trying to burp him. He settled his big blue eyes on me and stopped crying. He regarded me, I imagined, with the same wonder with which I regarded him. I had not seen a baby in years. I’d forgotten how their eyes could be cherubic yet wise at the same time.

The baby gazed at me with a hint of a smile – I might have imagined it – and if anything his eyes grew larger, radiating wonder and total acceptance. Had my eyes ever been so guileless?

I looked into those big eyes, wide and deep as oceans, and he looked into mine, and the moment stretched into what seemed like minutes. Adults will meet your eyes for a moment then look away, but this baby held my gaze with innocent boldness. I began to feel that I was looking into his soul and he into mine. Would my inner reality frighten him?

As he continued to stare into my eyes, I had the feeling – for a moment – that we were one person, and I could hear his thoughts.

“You’re free,” is what I imagined him thinking. “It’s real. No one is coming after you. It’s a dream only because the dunya itself is a dream. Allah is with you here, in this bus. He will not abandon you.”

In that moment I loved that infant, because he was everything good in the world. He was hope and joy. He was the hunger to learn and experience every new thing.

Then the baby let out a loud burp and stuck his fist in his mouth. He broke the contact between us, focusing with great interest on the experience of sucking his own hand.

I was free. Not only free, but free in America, the land of my childhood. I felt a surge of joy like an ocean current, and I laughed. Some of the passengers glanced at me worriedly. Between me and the ‘good one’ guy, they must have feared they’d boarded a bus full of loonies.

As soon as I arrived in L.A. I walked into a clothing store and bought new jeans and a t-shirt, and gave my old clothes to a homeless teenager who sat on the corner at Seventh Street with a black puppy in his lap.

There I stood, on a street corner in Los Angeles, with less than $100 left in my pocket, no job and no home. But I’d known where I was going when I got on the bus. There was only one person I could go to – my father’s old friend, B.” 

***

Muhammad opened his mouth to say something and Hassan cut him off with a wave.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Hassan said. “And yes I do trust you all. But it’s one thing to talk about people who are dead or gone. This person is alive and I have to protect him. It’s safer to be discreet. So he will remain simply B.

B’s son had been my childhood friend, and I’d visited their house many times as a child. I didn’t know if B was alive or dead, or if he still lived in the same place, and if he did whether I could find the house. From the Greyhound station I took a city bus and got lost in Echo Park, which was not only the wrong neighborhood but the wrong city. You can’t imagine how big Los Angeles is if you’ve never been there. It’s a huge conglomeration of cities, all running into each other. I was down to eighty dollars in my pocket but I decided to spend a portion on a cab.

I directed the cabbie in vague terms to the area where I had grown up. As we came near, I recognized a shopping center and the outline of an iconic white factory that had been old when I was a kid. I gripped the headrest of the seat in front of me until I felt my heartbeat in my fingers.

I could have directed the cabbie to my old house, but I resisted the temptation and instead directed him to B’s house.

I recognized the house immediately, though the trees bordering the street were larger, and the sidewalk was cracked from roots pushing up. The shrubbery in the front yard was overgrown, and the grass was rife with weeds. It had never been like that in the past.

B answered the door himself. He’d lost the hair atop his head, and the fringe was white. His face was lined and his jowls sagged. He’d gained so much weight that his belly looked like a beach ball under his shirt. But it was him.

“If you’re here to offer yard service,” he said, “I’m not hiring.”

Though he had changed physically, his voice was the same. I was so relieved to see him that I could not speak. Emotion choked my throat and I merely shook my head.

“Oh,” he said. “What then? Pool service? The newspaper? Speak up.”

I thought I saw the beginnings of fear on his face. I guessed that perhaps my size was intimidating. I made an effort and found my voice. “It’s good to see you Ammu,” I said.

He relaxed visibly and tipped his head back to look down his nose at me, as if trying to peer through a pair of bifocals.

“Are you one of my son’s friends?”

I nodded my head and smiled. “An old friend. Do you remember Simon?”

B’s face drained of blood and he reached out to catch himself from falling. I caught him under the arms and he stared into my eyes from only inches away. His face showed disbelief and wonder.

“Are you Simon Ibrahim?” he whispered. “How can that be?”

I’d known he would be surprised, but I was puzzled by the extremity of his reaction.

“Yes Ammu,” I said. “It’s a long story, but my name is Hassan now. I’m Muslim. And I know that my name was never truly Simon Ibrahim.”

B recovered some of his strength and detached himself from me. His bald pate was beaded with sweat.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Forgive my reaction. I simply never expected to see you again. I didn’t even know if you had survived the Lebanese civil war.”

He took me inside and I told him all that had transpired. He was shocked at what I had been through, and stunned at the revelation that Boulos Haddad had ordered the death of my father, then tried to kill me. When I was done he clasped my hand and said, “I will help you in every way I can. Don’t worry. You are not on your own.”

I was touched by that. I could never go home again, but this was the next best thing. My joy was short lived, however, as B informed me that his son – my old friend – had been stricken with a degenerative disease. He’d lost the use of his legs and much of his fine motor control with his hands.

I shared with B my belief that my father had hidden something for me. He was excited by the news. He wanted to plan a course of action to get to whatever my father had hidden, but I told him firmly that I didn’t want to involve him in something that might be illegal.

I did accept a loan. B gave me five thousand dollars to get by until I found a job. I rented a room for a weekly rate at a cheap motel called the Bluebell, a half mile from my old house. Then I bought a used bicycle at a local shop.

I avoided my old house. I intended to scout it eventually, but my priority was finding employment. I wanted something under the table, because I didn’t want my name and address on file with the IRS, the Social Security Agency or any other government agency. There was no immediate threat. But I wanted to stay off the books.

I visited a few landscaping services, looking for work, but I recognized right away that those companies were fully staffed with Mexican illegals who were paid illegally low wages. I wouldn’t get anything there. I also tried an ice cream truck company and a few restaurants, to no avail.

In the meantime, I tried to establish my identity as Hassan Amir. Even though I didn’t want to be employed on the books, I intended to secure my hold on my new identity. I applied for a copy of ‘my’ birth certificate and received it. For my address, I gave a post office box that I had rented. It was one of those P.O. boxes that masquerades as a real street address – suite such-and-such. I took a written test at the Department of Motor Vehicles and was granted a temporary driving permit. Then I applied for my driver’s license and was given an appointment for a driving exam.

Four days after I moved into the Bluebell I went out at night for a 7-11 chocolate run and passed a dance club called Slim’s. It had always been closed when I passed it during the day, but was apparently hopping at night. There was a line of people a half a block long, waiting to get in.

The lone doorman – a heavyset black man in a leather coat and sunglasses (worn more for the look than the weather, I supposed) – had his hands full trying to deal with four drunken young men who were beefing about not being allowed in. I soon came to realize, by the way, that sunglasses are an L.A. trademark. Everyone wears them, day and night, if not on their eyes then on the tops of their heads, or dangling around their necks. Old ladies go around with expensive shades buried in beehive haircuts.

The young men at the door shouted and cursed the doorman. One of them stepped forward and tried to shoulder his way through. When the doorman grabbed his neck and pulled him back, the young man swung at him. As the doorman tried to subdue the troublemaker, the other troublemakers pushed forward and joined the melee.

Some of the women in line screamed. The velvet rope delineating the line was knocked over, and people surged into the club without paying.

I’ve never liked seeing a group of cowards ganging up on one person. I parked my bike against the wall, ran forward and waded in. In seconds I’d pulled the young men off the doorman and thrown them to the ground, then blocked the door with my body to prevent any more freeloaders from entering.

The troublemakers walked away, nursing their bruises and cursing, as the doorman rose to his feet and brushed the dust from his leather coat.

“Thanks, man,” he said. “I’m Lenny.”

“I’m Johnny Deluca,” I said. 

*** 

Muhammad laughed. “You’re a trip, Hassan,” he said. “Like a spy novel.”

Jamilah didn’t think it was so funny. When someone lied constantly, how were others expected to believe him?

“Why didn’t you give your real name?” Jamilah said. “You were out of prison, free and clear. Why keep on lying?”

Hassan sighed. “Be patient, Jamilah. I think you’ll understand.

Lenny told me that the club was short-staffed and that I should go upstairs and talk to Rocky, the manager, about a job. “You sure got what it takes,” he said. “Tell Rocky I gave you a thumbs up.”

I thought about it. A dance club was not the ideal place of employment for a Muslim. But what was? Grocery stores sold liquor, fast food places served pork, financial institutions dealt in ribaa… How picky could I be? Plus, I’d heard that club work was usually under the table, which was exactly what I wanted. And I would only be managing the crowds at the door, not tending bar. It would do for now, at least.

Rocky was a muscular white guy in a black t-shirt that stretched across his massive chest and shoulders. His sunlamp-bronzed skin glistened in contrast to his tousled blonde hair. I was sure that some people would take him for just another artificial L.A. stereotype, but he had an easy smile and relaxed demeanor that I found appealing. His second floor office was fronted by a one-way mirror that looked down onto the club floor.

He looked me up and down. “You got the size. Good look, too. Can you handle yourself?”

I nodded my head. “The only thing I do well,” I said.

“You know any jokes?” Rocky asked.

I racked my mind, trying to remember a joke. I wasn’t good at jokes. Suddenly I remembered Jelly, one of the Muslim brothers from El Reno. A young brother from Kansas City, Kansas. He used to tell jokes all the time. Like you Muhammad, if you were a former drug dealer with cornrows. I pictured the scene in my head. We’re sitting around on the bandstand after Maghreb, swatting at mosquitoes. We’re finished with our sunnah and dhikr. Jelly pipes up and starts to tell a joke.

With that memory clear in my mind, I began to narrate the joke as I remembered it:

“This homie is struttin’ on the beach,” I said, “and he find a magic lamp. Rub it and a genie -”

“Why are you talking that way?” Rocky interrupted.

I frowned. “What way?”

“Like you’re channeling Eddie Murphy.”

“I… It’s a long story.”

“Huh. Well, maybe jokes aren’t your thing. That’s alright. Can you start tonight? Lenny could use some backup on the door.”

Ten minutes later I was working the door at Slim’s. 

*** 

“Hold on,” Muhammad said. “Was it the joke about the guy who wished for all the ladies to love him, and the genie turned him into a chocolate bar?”

Hassan snorted. “No. It was the one where – “

“You brothers do realize,” Kadija said, “that all these genie jokes are essentially about people bargaining with the jinn, which is a major sin?”

Jamilah rolled her eyes. It was one thirty in the morning, Hassan had been shot and still hadn’t told them why, they were finally reaching the end of the entire saga and everyone wanted to talk about jokes. She was about to let loose with a small tirade, but Hassan waved off Kadija’s comment and continued.

***

I was ready to scout my old house. I bicycled to an internet and print shop where I designed a flyer and printed twenty copies. I purchased a roll of masking tape and a small notebook in which I would record whatever activity I observed in the neighborhood. All of that went in a backpack. Then I rode to the house.

When I reached my old street, I began taping flyers to each telephone pole, on both sides of the street.

I intended to be discreet, but as I approached I slowed, and finally stopped at the driveway, in the exact spot where – so long ago – our family car had exploded and burned with my mother in it. I could see the differently colored cement where the crater in the driveway had been patched. I remembered the stink of urine, the smell of ANFO. More than anything, that smell had stayed with me. Recalling it now made me grimace.

There had been leaves everywhere, I remembered, knocked from the trees by the blast. Or was that something I had seen in Beirut, later? I’d seen so many car bomb scenes, so many mangled bodies, so much destruction…

I looked up at the trees. The leaves were all there. The young oak tree that had bordered the driveway was huge now, shading half the street. Why were there no signs of the explosion? Did trees heal over, or did they scar? I didn’t know.

Hardly knowing what I was doing, I dropped my bicycle on the driveway and stood, looking at the patched cement. I had spent so many years trying to forget that day, but now the memory returned in full force. The explosion that threw me across the room. My father, blood trickling from his ear. The explosion must have burst his eardrum. He must have been in terrible pain. I’d never thought about that before.

I looked up at the house, half expecting to see some sign of the damage. But of course it was in perfect condition. I saw now that it had been rebuilt differently. When I was a child the house had been yellow and white, with a front porch and an overhanging roof – California bungalow style, my mother called it. Now the house was a reddish brown color like dried blood, and the front door was recessed behind a locked gate. All the windows were barred, though they featured colorful flower boxes – perhaps in an attempt to soften the harshness of the bars.

Most significantly, the garage had been rebuilt as a detached cottage with its own front door and chimney. The cottage too had barred windows and stickers on the windows advertising a security company’s services.

I stepped onto the front lawn, which was neatly tended and bordered with succulents and clover. This was the spot where my father had been shot. I looked down, half expecting to see faded bloodstains on the green grass. But of course those events had happened long ago.

I thought about it. In reality, those terrible events had occurred fifteen and a half years ago. And yet in that time I had lived five lifetimes, it seemed.

I sank to my knees on the lawn and buried my fingers in the moist grass. I was aware on some level that I was being anything but discreet. My plan had been stupid. Ride past the house and observe? After so many years, as if nothing had happened? But this awareness felt distant and unimportant. My mind felt sluggish, as if my thoughts had been dipped in tar.

“What are you doing here? What do you want?”

I opened my eyes to see a a petite, thirty-something brunette standing before me, holding a sharp looking kitchen knife and pointing it at me menacingly. She looked frightened and angry.

I cleared my throat and tried to clear my mind as well.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’ve been looking for my dog Jasper and just needed to rest.”

Still on my knees, I took one of the flyers from my backpack and handed it to her.

“Have you seen him?” I asked. “I need to find him.”

I didn’t feel good about lying to the woman. I was aware that I was playing on her sympathies and manipulating her. But what else could I do? It wasn’t like I could say, “You know that car bomb that half-wrecked this neighborhood sixteen years ago? Well, that was my family, and I believe my father buried something beneath your garage, and I need to dig up the floor.”

The woman took the flyer, which depicted a cute cocker spaniel puppy with sad eyes, and the words, “Lost Dog,” along with a description of my imaginary pet and an offer of reward.

The woman’s eyes softened and she regarded me sympathetically. “I’m – I’m sorry,” she said. She made a motion as if to put the knife in her pocket, then thought better of it and looked around as if searching for somewhere to put it. Finally she simply kept it in her hand and looked at me.

“It’s just that we had two attempted break-ins recently,” she said. She waved the knife in the direction of the cottage. “Someone tried to get in our cottage. I don’t know why. There’s nothing of value. Just an old TV and some books.”

“I apologize for sitting on your lawn,” I said, rising slowly, brushing my hands off on my jeans and zipping my backpack closed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just felt very tired all of a sudden.” That was true enough. I felt as if I had run a marathon.

“Don’t worry about it,” the woman said. “I’m not normally so looney tunes.”

“You have to be safe in this crazy world,” I said. 

*** 

Jamilah had a question on the tip of her tongue. There was an obvious deduction that Hassan had ignored completely. But she decided to hold her peace for the moment and let him continue. 

*** 

“I had an idea,” Hassan continued.

“Listen,” I said. “Can I ask you something? I moved here from Oklahoma. I’m staying at the Bluebell Motel down the road, and I work security at Slim’s, do you know it?”

The woman laughed. “My club days are past. I’m married.”

“The thing is, I’m looking for a place to live. The Bluebell doesn’t allow pets. I’m always worried they’ll find out about Jasper. Assuming I find him.”

“I’m sure you’ll find him,” the woman said.

“Your cottage would be perfect. It’s close to my work, and I could pay you a decent rent. Jasper’s quiet and he doesn’t shed. Plus, I work security. Maybe having me around would prevent break-ins.”

The woman glanced back at the cottage. “Well,” she said. “It has been empty for a while. We built it for my brother when he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away three years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That’s rough.”

She nodded and made a motion as if to brush her hair from her face, then remembered the knife and stopped. “Especially for the kids. Listen, let me talk to my husband and I’ll let you know.” She looked at the flyer. “Is this your number?”

“Actually, that’s the number at Slim’s. I don’t have a phone. Can I just come by tomorrow?”

“Sure. I’m Holly. I’d shake your hand, but…” She held the knife up.

“I’m Johnny,” I said.

*** 

When I returned the next day, Holly invited me in and served a cold soda. She informed me that her husband had agreed to rent me the cottage. He was a clothing designer who made frequent business trips to the Far East, and was sometimes gone for a month or more.

“He’s been worried,” Holly said. “Especially since the break-ins. I think he’s relieved that I’ll have someone responsible on the property. You are responsible, aren’t you?”

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “You can call my employer if you like.”

She shook her head. “I can tell you’re alright. I’m good that way. And what’s this ma’am business? I’m practically your age.”

I didn’t know whether to feel good or bad about renting the cottage. It would be hard seeing this place every day. All the memories. Riding my bike over this driveway would be like rubbing my heart on a cheese grater.

To make matters worse, I had a sense that Holly was interested in me on more than a landlord-tenant level. It had been a long time since I’d felt the touch of a woman, and this was a temptation I didn’t need.

On the other hand, living in the cottage meant I’d be able to search for whatever my father had left. The cottage sat directly on the location of the old garage, most likely on the original foundation.

I paid the first month’s rent and deposit and moved in immediately.

The first thing I noticed was the hardwood flooring. The cottage consisted of a single large room with a small bathroom in the rear corner. It didn’t have a proper kitchen – just a formica countertop with a sink, hotplate and microwave, and a mini fridge stashed beneath the counter. But it was nicely furnished. Thick hand-woven rugs softened the floor. It was furnished with a plush green sofa and loveseat, a small kitchen table with two antique-looking chairs, an ornate reading desk, and a single bed with a reading lamp mounted on the headboard.

To me it was a mansion. Compared to the six by twelve foot prison cells that I had shared with one and sometimes two men, the cottage was a slice of heaven.

Holly was a musician with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and on the days when she attended rehearsal I had peace and quiet, and could work undisturbed.

When she was home, however, she knocked on my door two or three times a day. At first she tried to get me to drink with her – she was a serious wine drinker – but  when that didn’t work she started bringing me lemonade or cookies. Instead of letting her in, I’d sit on the front stoop and chat for a few minutes, then excuse myself. I felt sorry for her. Her husband was away most of the time, and the two kids – whose names were Viola and Oboe, and I’m not making that up – were in daycare during the day. But it wasn’t my problem.

***

When I started prying up the floorboards, Holly was there in a flash, asking curiously about the noise, and trying to peek past me into the cottage. Fortunately I’d anticipated this problem. I had purchased a punching bag and hung it from the exposed rafters in the ceiling. I pointed it out to Holly and explained that I practiced punches, kicks and stick strikes on the bag, and that it could be loud.

“I make plenty of noise when I practice,” Holly said, touching my hand. “We’ll have to learn to ignore each other.”

I began the process of moving the furniture and rugs from place to place, removing floorboards in sections, and inspecting the exposed cement carefully. From the faded oil stains and occasional gouges, it was clear that the floor was still the original cement from the garage. I didn’t see any point in digging it up. That would be difficult, loud and time-consuming, not to mention impossible to hide.

Also, I assumed that whatever my father had hidden was something he would want to retrieve at a later date, which meant that it had to be accessible.

Each time I completed a section I replaced the floorboards. I laid down the builder’s felt, nailed the boards back in place using the original nail holes, and covered the nail heads with wood putty. When the putty was dry I replaced the furniture or rug that had covered that spot.

I often heard Holly practicing music in the main house. One afternoon the music became discordant and wild, then stopped. Shortly afterward she came to my door crying while I was in the middle of removing a section of flooring. I covered the spot with a rug, exited the cottage and pulled the door shut behind me. Holly threw herself into my arms, sobbing, and I had to pry her loose. Her breath reeked of alcohol.

“Have you found Jasper?” she asked. “Are you still looking?”

“Still looking,” I lied, “but I’ve almost given up hope.”

Holly wiped her eyes and smiled suggestively. “I could comfort you,” she said. “Or just keep you company. I’m having a rotten day. We’re doing a piece by Mahler next month and I can’t get my part right. Can’t I just come in and watch while you practice or whatever you do?”

Of course I refused and sent her away. She didn’t like that. I could see in her face that my lack of receptiveness was becoming a problem. I didn’t have much time left to do what I needed to do.

Sure enough, she came to see me the next day, her face tight with anger.

“This isn’t working out,” she said. “You’re not the friendly type of person that I thought.”

I reminded her that I had paid for a month in advance and that I had a right to stay for the full month.

“Fine,” she said. “But when the month is over, I want you out.”

The days raced by. I worked a ten-hour shift at the club every night, and between sleeping and meals, I had only a few hours each day to work on the search. What if whatever I sought was beneath the kitchen counter, the shower or the toilet? I’d never find it.

With a week remaining on my month’s rent, I went to see my father’s friend B. He was the only person I trusted. I updated him on my search and lack of success so far.

“I’ll hire a crew tomorrow,” he said as brewed a mug of tea. “We’ll tear out the floor and jackhammer the foundation if necessary.”

I shook my head. “That would attract attention. And I don’t want you getting in trouble if anything goes wrong. I can handle it.”

“Then handle it,” he snapped. I looked at him in surprise and he apologized. “I only want what’s best for you,” he said. “I feel terrible about how difficult your life has been, all you’ve been through. I should have helped you somehow.”

I stood and gripped his shoulder reassuringly. “None of it was your fault. You couldn’t have known what the future held. You’re helping me now, and that’s plenty.” 

*** 

Four days passed without success. Time was running out. That afternoon, Holly showed up at my door yet again. She had a small bandage on her upper lip, and held a CD in her hand. I could smell the wine on her breath. She extended the CD.

“I burned some songs for you,” she said. “A workout routine. I thought we could patch things up.”

“What happened?” I asked, indicating her lip. I wondered if she had banged her mouth on a door and cut it.

Holly’s frowned. “Just a cold sore,” she said. “No big deal. Can I come in? We can listen to the CD together.”

“I’m sorry Holly, but I -”

“Is it the cold sore?” Her face turned red with anger. “It’s not my fault that my bastard husband gave me herpes. I know he picked it up from some foreign whore. I’m not good enough for you, is that it?”

“It’s not that, it’s just – “

“Three days!” She shouted. “Then you’d better be out or I’m calling the sheriff! And I don’t believe you even have a dog!” She threw the CD at me and it bounced off my chest, the case breaking open when it fell to the ground. Then she stormed off.

An hour later there was another knock. Feeling resigned, I opened the door, only to find two police officers, with Holly standing close behind them, trying to push through.

One of the officers, a Hispanic female, turned to Holly. “Ma’am, I told you to stay inside.”.

The other, a young white man, addressed me. “Miss Holly Porter here says you assaulted her and tried to rape her.”

I stared at him. “That’s not true, officer.” I explained that Holly frequently came to my door drunk, wanting to be admitted, and would get angry when I refused. The officer nodded his head, as if he’d half expected to hear that. I had no doubt that he could smell the liquor on her breath. The two officers declined to file a report, and left.

“Cowards!” Holly screamed after them. “I pay your salaries!”

I shut the door and locked it. This was turning into a nightmare. How could people live like this? I knew that not all non-Muslims were so out of control, but I had the bad luck to live next to a alcoholic stalker. Still, thank God for Islam.

I felt sorry for Holly, but she wasn’t my problem. I only had three days left on my lease. I had to find whatever my father had hidden, now.

I found it the next morning.

I had removed a section of flooring near the rear wall. I noticed a very fine line in the cement, outlining a square about two feet on a side. In the center of this square, two bolt holes were drilled into the cement. There wasn’t anything overtly suspicious about it. It merely looked as if something had been bolted to the floor at some point in the past. A workbench, perhaps, or a tool of some kind. I vaguely recalled that my parents had had a deep chest freezer on this spot.

I shined a flashlight down into the bolt holes. In each hole there was a small steel eyehook, about two inches down. The bolt holes were too narrow even for my fingers. I would need a specialized tool. During the war I’d sometimes had to jury-rig repairs to rusting equipment and to the barracks themselves. Though we’d had a small engineering corps, they mostly tended to the needs of the leadership and high-ranking officers.

I didn’t have to jury-rig anything. At an auto parts store I found a chain with an s-hook attached to each end, used for towing. I hammered the s-hooks flat so that they would fit into the bolt holes. I’m sure my father had had a more elegant way of removing the cement block. But mine would work, I thought.

I draped the chain over my shoulders, fitted the s-hooks into the eyehooks, squatted down, gripped the strap and lifted with my legs. In prison I’d been able to squat 485 pounds. I don’t know how much this cement block weighed, but it was heavy. The chain dug painfully into my upper back. But it worked, and the cement block slowly came up out of the ground. With a tremendous effort I managed to lift it above floor level and set it to the side.

How on earth had my father moved the block? Even he and my mother would not have been able to lift it together. My father’s leg had been lame, after all. Perhaps he’d built a makeshift pulley of some kind…

Inside the hole was a steel combination safe, laid on its back so that the door faced up. I stared at it. There really was something here, after all. I hadn’t been at all sure there would be. After all these years, I was looking at something that my own father had hidden. He’d probably not hidden it specifically for me, but still, it was a piece of my father’s life, sitting here underground for sixteen years.

How was I going to open the safe without the combination? I had to vacate this cottage the next day. Could I simply lift it out and take it with me? I studied it from all angles. Small, engraved letters at the bottom of the door identified it as an “Ultrasafe Fire Safe 3000”. The safe was deep chested, with thick steel walls, and fit snugly into the hole. It must weigh hundreds of pounds, even more than the cement slab. There was no way I’d lift it out without equipment, and even then I’d have to jackhammer the floor around it. My father must have hired a construction team to build this hole and lower the safe into it.

Maybe I could blow the safe open? No. I had some limited experience with explosives, but not enough for a job like this, and where would I get explosives anyway?

I had to figure out the combination, and I had to do it by tomorrow. Because the safe lay on its back with the door facing up, I would not have to remove it at all if I could just get the combination right.

I sat on the floor, still breathing deeply from the effort of hoisting the cement block. I laid down on the floor and closed my eyes. The combination could be anything. And I had no idea how many digits the combination contained, or how many times to spin the wheel. Tomorrow morning I’d see what I could learn. With great effort I lowered the cement slab back in place, restored the floorboards, threw a rug over the spot, and moved the loveseat over it.

I rode my bike to a payphone the next day, ready with a pocket full of quarters. First I called directory assistance and requested the number for Ultrasafe Corp, which was based in Toledo, as it turned out.

I didn’t need my quarters. Ultrasafe had a toll-free customer service line. I was transferred to a chipper-sounding woman named Bettina, who seemed ecstatic at the opportunity to help me. I explained that I had an Ultrasafe 3000 and that I vaguely remembered the combination, but that I’d forgotten which directions to turn the wheel.

“It’s called a dial,” Bettina corrected me. “What’s the serial number?”

Fortunately I had thought to jot it down and I rattled off the numbers.

“Oldie but a goodie!” Bettina said. “It’s easy. You’ll note that the dial displays from zero to ninety nine. All you have to do is spin four times left to the first number, three times right to the second, two times left to the third, then one time right to zero. Note that I said to each number, not past. You’d be amazed how many people get that wrong. And there is no such thing as clearing the lock by spinning the dial. That’s a myth, like Bigfoot, you know? Speaking of, I’d be in hiding too, if people called me Bigfoot. Heavens alive, the wheels inside the lock are already out of position – that’s technical talk. I’m not a technician but I’ve learned over the years. Spinning the dial does nothing.”

I think she would have gone on all morning if I hadn’t thanked her and hung up.

Back at the cottage, I moved the chair and rug, gritted my teeth and hoisted the cement block again. My legs were getting a workout, and I already had a long blue bruise across my neck and traps from last night’s effort. I had no choice, however.

I looked at the safe. Three numbers, anywhere from one to ninety nine. I said Bismillah and spun the dial, turning left to the day of my birth, right to the month, left to the year, then right to zero.

Nothing happened. That was vanity, I supposed. I tried Charlie’s birthday, then my mother’s and father’s birthdays in turn, though I wasn’t 100% sure of the year in my parents’ cases. I tried the house number, one digit at a time. That would have been too obvious. Then I tried variations of all the above, for example using one digit for the month and then two; and two digits for the year and then four. I tried putting my ear to the dial and listening like I’d seen in the movies, but all I heard was the rasp of my own breath.

Frustrated, I paced the floor. Every time I passed the heavy bag, I hit it. I was out of ideas.

I remembered something Jamil used to say. “When you’re out of ideas, ask Allah.”

I went to the bathroom and performed wudu’. As I did, I felt myself growing calm, as if the water were washing away my anxiety.

I laid my musalla on the floor. It was the very same musalla that Jamil had given me seven years ago. It was homemade – made by one of the brothers Jamil had known at Leavenworth – and depicted a small masjid with a dome and minaret. I prayed ‘Ishaa, trying to clear my mind of all worldly thoughts, focusing only on the words that I spoke, and on my presence before Allah.

When my prayer was complete I raised my hands in dua’. I spoke to Allah in my own words, asking Him to help me open the safe, not because I needed any money that might be inside. I had considered that possibility but I didn’t care about it. What was more important to me was that it was from my father. A piece of his life. And maybe something from my mother as well.

As I thought about my mother and father together, I remembered a day when I’d been eight years old, before my mom and dad split up temporarily. Charlie and I had surprised the two of them with breakfast in bed for their anniversary. Between the two of us we’d managed to mess up the entire kitchen in order to produce a dish of scrambled eggs with pepper and cinnamon – Charlie insisted that cinnamon made everything better – along with whole pickles and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We’d picked the oranges from Mr. Niemeyer’s tree across the street, and used twenty oranges to make two glasses of juice.

Their anniversary. We’d all celebrated it, every year. October 30, 1974. It was easy to remember, because it was the day before Halloween, and the year before I was born. A day for our parents, then a day for us kids.

I was right this time. I could feel it.

I went to the safe, said a quick dua’, and kneeled beside it. I breathed on my fingers like the safecrackers I’d seen in the movies, and tried 10 left, spinning the dial four times. 30 right, spinning three times. 74 left, spinning two times. Then right to the zero.

With bated breath, I pulled on the lever beside the dial.

Nothing. It wouldn’t budge. I let out my breath in a huff. I stared at the safe. I was sure I was right. You know the famous hadith qudsi from Nawawi’s forty, the one about drawing near to Allah? Allah said, and I’m paraphrasing, that one draws near to Allah through the required worship and extra good deeds, until Allah loves him. When that happens, Allah becomes his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. If this servant asks for something, Allah grants it, and if he seeks refuge, Allah gives it.

That was how I felt in that moment. Allah had given me the answer and was guiding me, moving my hand on the dial. There was only some little detail that I was missing…

Aha! I remembered that outside of the USA, the month is often listed after the day. I tried again. 30 left, 10 right, 74 left, and right to zero. I heard a tiny click. I gripped the lever and pulled.

The safe opened, and I stared at the contents in wonder.

Next:  Hassan’s Tale, Part 16 – Kidnapped

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

64 Comments

64 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hafsa

    September 17, 2014 at 1:25 AM

    It’s that briefcase he found, I’m guessing.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 18, 2014 at 8:51 AM

      I happened to read this comment before I read the story and was like “Whaa..? If the treasure wasn’t revealed after such a long story, what are the 5 pages about then?” I am impatiently waiting for the treasure to be revealed in next episode!

  2. Avatar

    SnJannah

    September 17, 2014 at 3:07 AM

    Thank you brother Wael. :)

  3. Avatar

    Shafiq

    September 17, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    I knew it, Brother Wael. I knew you’d leave us on a cliff hanger. Hurry up and post the next part!

  4. Avatar

    Safa

    September 17, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Jazakah Allahu khayran, this was a good part and imparted some relief … although Hassan mashallah is quite clever in his plots. Very driven & focused.

    If only he knows that Mr. B is a traitor.

  5. Avatar

    asrauf

    September 17, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    Probably a small typo, you meant to say: “I remembered that outside of the USA, the month is often listed **AFTER** the day”

  6. Avatar

    Bint Mubasher

    September 17, 2014 at 9:22 PM

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, this was amazing!
    I seriously can’t wait till next week. LIKE SERIOUSLY, can’t Hassan tell that Ammu is a traitor?!?!
    Hats off Br. Wael :))

  7. Avatar

    umm habiba

    September 18, 2014 at 12:42 AM

    I didn’t have to jury rig anything.. There’s a typo there.
    Great story and wonderful moments of inspiration.
    Jazaak Allah khair bro Wael

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 18, 2014 at 12:58 AM

      Some people say jury rig, some say jerry rig. Both are correct. Thank you for your kind comment, jazak Allah khayr.

    • Avatar

      Bint Mubasher

      September 19, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      My name is Habiba! I bet your daughter is amazing :)))))))))))

  8. Avatar

    Blue Pilot

    September 18, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    You’re a very gifted writer brother Wael mashaAllah. I love this story. Maybe you shouldnt post the ‘ourboros’ online. You should publish the book and I’ll buy one for everyone I know :) Baarak Allaah feek!

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 18, 2014 at 11:56 PM

      Haha, I think the readers would surround me in a dark alley and mug me for the pages.

  9. Avatar

    Hanadi

    September 18, 2014 at 3:09 PM

    The hardest part is waiting for the next post. Patience was never one of my virtues. MashAllah, keep up the great work.

  10. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    September 18, 2014 at 11:55 PM

    I just rewrote the scene on page 3 where Hassan tries to tell a joke to get the job. I like it better this way.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 19, 2014 at 12:46 AM

      This is now echoing the serious-side of Hassan Amir.

  11. Avatar

    Hafsa

    September 20, 2014 at 12:31 AM

    I’m not sure where I missed it. Why/ when did Hassan think his father had left him something?

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 20, 2014 at 12:53 AM

      You didn’t miss it. It was an idea I had later, and went back and inserted on this page in Part 5 of Hassan’s Tale. I also inserted mentions of it in a few other chapters.

      • Avatar

        Hafsa

        September 21, 2014 at 11:59 PM

        Jazak Allah khair for the reply. Can’t wait for the book!

  12. Avatar

    abuamirah

    September 20, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    wow, masha Allah i have been hooked all along. Great writing bro. You inspire me alot.

  13. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    September 23, 2014 at 8:49 PM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. The next chapter of Hassan’s Tale is turning out a bit long. I need two more days to finish, Insha’Allah. Check back on Thursday night / Friday morning.

  14. Avatar

    Rabya

    September 24, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Salam bro Wael! So are we waiting til bect week for part 16??

  15. Avatar

    Nus

    September 25, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    AssalamuAlaikum Brother Wael. Please take all the time you need. You need not feel rushed inshallah.

  16. Avatar

    Farah Afzal

    September 26, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    “Tomorrow night” came and went.This is not good.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 26, 2014 at 2:23 PM

      Part 16 is ready. I’m just waiting on my MM editor. Be patient, Insha’Allah :-)

  17. Avatar

    SZH

    September 26, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    Is today 26th?
    My internet browser is not showing link to “Hassan’s Tale, Part 16 – Kidnapped” on muslimmatters.org

  18. Avatar

    umm habiba

    September 26, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Relax guys.. It takes time.
    Lol bro Wael, it’s going to be difficult handling the fame

  19. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    September 26, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Update: Just heard from my editor. Part 16 will be published Saturday, Insha’Allah. Sorry folks!

    • Avatar

      Ahmad

      September 27, 2014 at 8:46 AM

      We should have more patience. After all, this is something brother Wael is doing for free.

  20. Avatar

    Hazza

    September 26, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    Absolutely disappointed to be waiting this long Br. Wael, its been like this for the past 2 to 3 weeks and you have constantly made us (the readers) wait every single time, only to be telling us the last second that we have to wait YET AGAIN before you publish the next part. There’s no efficiency or time-management whatsoever.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 26, 2014 at 11:21 PM

      Hazza, this is the best I can do. I’m not a fast writer. The creative process takes time. I put a lot of thought into my plot, characters and settings. I revise and revise again. Sometimes I write a scene a certain way but it doesn’t feel authentic, so I change it. At the same time, I have my work, and a daughter to care for (I am a single parent), and my martial arts classes (I am an instructor). Completing a chapter from Tuesday to Tuesday is not always possible, especially with the longer chapters that I’ve been writing recently.

    • Avatar

      Wazeed

      September 27, 2014 at 12:11 AM

      @ Hazza. Grow up. at the end of the day its a fictional story. Get off the brothers neck. straight up. When he gets to it he will get to it. So sit there and wait till it comes up then you can can read.

  21. Avatar

    Hazza

    September 27, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    Fair enough brother Wael. My bad and my apologies, take as much as time as you need.

    P.S. why not just publish it every 2weeks then Br. Wael?

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 27, 2014 at 1:39 AM

      Hazza, that probably would have been wiser. With Ouroboros (the next story), I plan to write the entire thing before beginning the weekly installments, Insha’Allah. So it won’t be an issue.

      • Avatar

        n.h.

        September 27, 2014 at 4:48 AM

        Dear brother Wael, we are an impatient bunch and we live your writing… bad for you :). You can write everything before hand but we will miss the anticipation… a bit.

      • Avatar

        Rabya

        September 27, 2014 at 10:13 AM

        Salam brother! Hmmm I don’t know about that! I actually like the fact that we have to wait some weeks: it reminds us that you’re human and not to take you for granted! Also there’s always a surprise after each wait! A nice long story! And waiting builds the suspense, the trepidation!
        And really for Ouroboros, we have to wait til its all written first, then may be waiting much longer before the series starts…
        May Allah bless you for this brother!

  22. Avatar

    Umm Meriem

    September 27, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Just take all of this impatience as a compliment to the author. This has been a great read from start to finish, ماشاء الله تبارك الله

  23. Avatar

    Umar

    September 27, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Assalam u alaikum brother Wael, are you going to post this story later during the day or at another time. I was confused because when you update, you usually updated early during the day.

  24. Avatar

    Umm bilal

    September 27, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    Really brother wael, I have never checked mm this frequently

    • Avatar

      Rabya

      September 27, 2014 at 5:43 PM

      Hahahahaha! SubhanAllah sister, you are so right!
      Have been going back and forth since Wednesday…although I did pick up some interesting articles during the wait! ;-)

      • Avatar

        Umm bilal

        September 27, 2014 at 10:55 PM

        Ha ha same here sister Rabya… May be this one is worth the wait !!

  25. Avatar

    homayra

    September 27, 2014 at 8:29 PM

    Where is it…..been checking 5x a day ! LOL

  26. Avatar

    umm

    September 28, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    OK I’m not going to check MM until Wednesday.
    I find it annoying(and slightly insulting) that the editors would delay to post a ready chapter.

  27. Avatar

    zen

    September 28, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    I’m with umm. I have nothing but praise for the writing and the story lines masha Allah… and I have no problem waiting. But be to given the runaround in this way is disrespectful imo.

    • Avatar

      Helpless Slave

      September 28, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      I agree. Unless there is a valid excuse this is highly unprofessional.

  28. Avatar

    abdullah

    September 28, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    Dear MM: be better than the muslim organizations we’ve grown tired of. Don’t say you’ll do something then fail to deliver. Just set reasonable expectations, then stick to them. Also don’t treat your readers like little children (remember Ramadan?) These types of things are pretty fundamental to the business world in which many of us work, and when we see that another one of our organizations doesn’t stand up to the kinds of standards we take for granted from non-Muslims, it doesn’t reflect well.

    I won’t lie, this is the main reason I come to MM, and I think there are others like myself. You should be treating this story series as your hook, i.e. the means by which you bring more people to your site, whereby they can benefit from other content. What I’m saying is that when you mess this one up, it will probably have the opposite effect.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 28, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      The editor had a family emergency. He is working on posting the story today, Insha’Allah.

      It was narrated from ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he said: “Do not think badly of a word uttered by your brother, when you can find a good interpretation for it.”

      In other words, assume the best about people. Be patient and understanding with them. Jazakum Allah khayr. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and loyalty. Your eagerness keeps me writing.

  29. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    September 28, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    My daughter Salma says, “Just let him write! I had to read all of these comments! Seriously? 49 comments? Okay that’s it.”

    Ha ha don’t mind her, she’s 8 years old and has a lot of attitude.

    • Avatar

      abdullah

      September 28, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      Brother Wael – no skin off your back. I understand the difficulties of writing, and that sometimes these things take more time than expected. However, I’m kind of disappointed with the way MM has handled some aspects of this story series, and think they could have done – and still can do – better here. Allah bless your daughter.

    • Avatar

      Helpless Slave

      September 28, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      Adding to my earlier comment, I think we should revisit the earlier episode of Hassan’s tale – POSITIVE ASSUMPTIONS. It feels like we have deviated far from the original niyyah of reading this story, I think hassan as a character provides us with so much naseehah which are overlooking as we are treating this as any other story. We have totally side stepped the Islamic ethos that the story aims at

  30. Avatar

    Umar

    September 28, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    So when is it going to be posted?

  31. Avatar

    Helpless Slave

    September 28, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    Subhana Allah how hasty we are, we don’t give our rights to our brothers and complain about the “Ummah is messed up”. I feel stupid now, to have posted to my earlier comment.

  32. Avatar

    homayra

    September 28, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    (Quotes Quran) فصبر جميل!!! Its hard isnt it….what about our bro n sis in palestine?? Patience ya ummati !

  33. Avatar

    n.h.

    September 28, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    Family emergencies are valid. Patience is important. But I do hope MM will read and consider brother Abdullah’s comment as a naseeha. I personally did not like how MM handled Ramadan publications. Its important to set the right kind of expectations otherwise it all turns into an unnecessary test lol. I work, I look after my 2 year old, cook for a big family, deal with the fact that hubby works away so most of the week I am like a single mum, do classes and meetings and whatever productive I can. This series had been a good outlet and source of inspiration. When I have a bad day with everything in life, this whole waiting business is just an unnecessary, additional burden. Works like the last straw and breaks my back lol. Okay thats an exaggeration, but my mood does slide! I am sure the brothers and sisters complaining here probably havr similar excuses! Who knows, may be thereis a reader from palestine!

  34. Avatar

    Komal

    September 28, 2014 at 9:01 PM

    I think most of us failed to notice “Hassan’s ” level of PATIENCE and hence gave the MM team and brother Wael quiet an earful:)

  35. Avatar

    reshmarahiman

    September 28, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Assalamualikum dear brother’s and sisters. It was quiet entertaining to read the comment section and I must say the comments have kept me entertained during the “wait” :). Alhamdulillah brother Wael may Allah reward you for your efforts. I am a designer by profession and can totally relate to the creative process and creative blocks! Pressure is a big joy killer and a big NO to the spontaneous overflow of ‘the creative juices’. And to all fellow Muslims following the story I can’t help but notice our impatience has been directly proportional to the delay..or do I dare say vice versa? So let us remain calm, we are Muslims first and patience should be our dominant virtue. Brother Wael when you do anticipate a delay (due to creative block, etc) bail yourself beforehand by announcing the same. When I work with deadlines and I cannot meet it I inform my client a few days ahead and then sometimes I do end up submitting the work before hand, but the buffer always helps. As for MM I believe you could have put an official announcement regarding the delay rather than put it in the comment section, as a reaction to the reader’s comments. I believe that way it could have been more professional. :) Allah knows best. May Allah guide us on the straight path. :)Ameen.

  36. Avatar

    Rabya

    September 28, 2014 at 10:02 PM

    Seriously people: CHILL!!!
    Nastagfirullah!! What’s wrong witht this Ummah!!!
    We’re all complaining just because our dear FICTIONAL story hasn’t been posted this week! REALLY??? How about seriously practicing what Islam preaches: Patience! And stop feeling soooo entitled!!
    Yes it’s a weekly series, but if it’s not ready, or there’s a setback, then keep it moving! Continue on with ur lives until it’s posted again.
    Do some dhikr, fast, take up a hobby, go on a trip, read a book, learn Quran until the following Wednesday!!! :D
    The Editor had a family emergency and yet not even one of us prayed that Allah make it easy for him!
    How about we all be grateful for this FREE means of entertainement and guidance, and stop shooting down the MM folks!
    As for Ramadan, being a HUGE fan of Brother Wael’s stories, I was a bit bummed about the break, but honestly it was in our best interest!
    It’s MM’s site, they call the shots. And on Judgement Day, they will be called to account for their actions. And postponing fictional stories so we can concentrate on Qur’an, I pray will weigh heavily in their balance of good deeds!
    So if ur not okay with some of the decisions, get ur own team of writers and start ur own blog.
    Or better yet post something constructive in the comments section so that those checking the page for the Millionth time will benefit from it!
    In the meantime if we can’t say anything nice or productive , lets stay silent and enjoy the ride… :)
    Wa salam aleikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu!!

    • Aly Balagamwala

      Aly Balagamwala

      September 29, 2014 at 12:39 AM

      Jazakillahu Khairin Sister and Aameen to your duas.

      While y’all wait may I suggest you look around the site and benefit from over 6 yeas of content. Just enter a random year and month in the format http://muslimmatters.org/2010/04/ (ie April, 2010)

      WasSalamuAlaikum
      Aly
      CommentsTeam Lead

  37. Avatar

    aaz

    September 29, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    That’s right why didn’t anyone pray for the editor? May Allah ease the difficulties he/she is facing right now.

  38. Avatar

    Helpless Slave

    September 29, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakaatuhu Brother Wael, any idea when the next part will published.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 29, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      I’m sorry, I don’t know. I was told yesterday or today. I guess the MM editorial staff is a little bit understaffed or overworked right now.

  39. Avatar

    Omer

    September 30, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    I just reread a section of this, and I thought it would be beneficial to reflect on Hassan’s decision to work at the dance club. The point of this comment is definitely not to condemn or judge a fictional character, but it is to point out a way of though that is common, and which I am extremely guilty of, in the hopes that it proves beneficial. He rationalizes it by stating the limited alternatives and the prevalence of haram in many general work places. I feel that we fall victim to that trend of thought when faced with sin. To make it acceptable to us we (with much help from the devil) spin an argument to justify it and make it okay, and sometimes its good to just step back and objectively view the issue. I appreciate Hassan’s circumstances, but Hassan was just an example used to facilitate this general advice.

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Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

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In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

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Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

At the party she stood near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. At least the food was good.

Golden Gate Bridge at night

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

The Smoker

Cigarette butt

“I’m going to kill her,” the man in the back seat growled. A moment earlier his phone had beeped, indicating a text message.

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Randa ignored him. She could already smell him – he reeked of cigarette smoke and Drakkar, a syrupy yet rancid combination, like a rotting fruit – and didn’t care to expend the energy to turn her head.

Exhausted from a nine hour shift slinging overloaded plates of food to hordes of Japanese and German tourists, she sat in the front seat of the UberPOOL car, staring out the window at the passing nightlife of San Francisco. Taxis and buses jostling for space, restaurants with lines down the block. Cable cars, street cars, tourists with their expensive cameras like baby candy for Tenderloin junkie thieves. Chinese women heading home from SOMA sweatshops, elbowing their way onto packed buses. Local hipsters, bike messengers and pimply faced tech millionaires. They were all jammed into this city on seven hills, mesmerized by the lights and endless cash, or imprisoned by them. Free to go where they would; free to ruin themselves.

She reached into the shopping bag between her knees and fingered the silk scarf she’d purchased. She’d spent half her weekly paycheck on it. A gift for Nawal. SubhanAllah, its exquisite softness was unreal. What she would have given during the last three years to feel something so yielding. She released the scarf and settled back into the seat. Quick stop at the halfway house to shower and change, then on to Nawal’s party. She could do this. After all she’d been through, why should a party make her nervous?

“Bitches lie,” the smoker went on. “That’s all women do, they lie. I’m going to kill the sl*t.”

“Sir,” the driver said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He was a tiny man with a thick moustache and a flat cap. His name was Ali, according to the Uber app. European looking, maybe Kurdish, maybe Arab. “Calm down or I will put you out.”

“Screw you,” Smoker said. “I paid for this ride, I’m not going any-”

Ali swerved to the curb and hit the brakes, screeching to a stop beside Union Square. “Out.”

It was almost Christmastime, and the square was packed. Randa saw people ice skating on the little rink they set up every December. The compressor that cooled the ice was very loud. Tourists were crowded into the Starbucks beside the rink. On every side of the square, monuments to consumerism rose. Macy’s, the Westin St. Francis, Nike, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Bul93gari, Tiffany & Co… Idols of wealth and third world labor. After spending three years owning nothing but a few sets of clothing and a few books, this was all foreign. As if some great beast had eaten every valuable thing in the world and regurgitated it in one place. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted it all, or was revolted by it all.

“Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.

Randa had had enough. She turned and scanned the back seat. Directly behind her, a teenaged blonde girl in denim looked very uncomfortable – almost frightened but not quite there. Randa focused on the smoker. He was brown skinned and barrel chested, with thinning black hair. Middle Eastern. He looked familiar, actually. His eyes were bloodshot. It was like a set up for a joke: three Arabs and a white girl get into an Uber… Except there was nothing funny about this guy. He was big and looked quite capable of violence.

Randa, on the other hand, was physically unimposing. Short, skinny, long black hair tied in a ponytail, she was a typical Yemeni girl, as light as one of the reeds that grew in the Aden wetlands, where her parents had grown up. That didn’t matter. Anyone could hurt anyone, she knew this. Her eyes were lasers drilling into the smoker. Her jaw was a steel trap. Liquid nitrogen flowed through her veins. If this guy wanted to mix it up, she would tear him to pieces.

The man’s eyes met hers, he opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He exited the car, slamming the door.

The driver smiled at Randa. He looked very relieved. “MashaAllah alayki,” he praised her in Arabic. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks. Maybe you should be a rideshare driver.”

Randa did not reply.

The Threat

Prison visitors window

She checked into the halfway house on Turk Street with ten minutes to spare before her work period expired. The staff member on duty was her own case manager, a thin, bald man with a pasty complexion and a scar on his lip.

“I’ll need a recreation block later,” Randa told him. “Starting at seven.”

The man smirked. “Hot date?”

Randa gazed at him impassively, her face as ungiving as a concrete wall.

“I need to know where you’re going,” the case manager said, annoyed.

“Bachelorette party.”

“Better not be any drugs there.”

“Muslim party. No drugs, no alcohol, no men. Just women dancing and eating.”

“You only have one rec block left this month.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private office. “Come back here, we’ll have a little fun, I’ll give you five more blocks. You’ll have a good time.” He punctuated this assurance with a wink.

“Eat poison and die.”

The man flinched as if he’d been slapped, then snarled. “Take your block. But if you’re one minute late I will write a violation on you faster than you can say, ‘Allah help me.’”

Up in her tiny second floor room with the two-woman bunk bed, changing out of her waitressing uniform, she considered not going. She hadn’t been to a social event since her release. She knew they’d all be talking about her.

While locked up she’d earned a correspondence bachelor’s degree in business administration. She was still trying to figure out what to do with it. Education wise she’d already surpassed 90% of the Yemeni community. But that didn’t matter. To them she was a shame and a wreck, a disgrace to her family.

And she wasn’t sure it was safe. What if her brother Motaz showed up? Did he still have it in for her? She had not seen him since her arrest, when he came to see her in the county jail. They sat across from each other in small cubbies, separated by thick plexiglass into which someone had scratched the words, “LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

Leaning forward to talk through a perforated panel, she explained that she hadn’t known there were drugs in the backpack. Her boyfriend had told her it was a game console he’d sold, and asked her to deliver it on her way to school. She’d been in love with Lucas, and never imagined he would manipulate her that way.

Her brother’s cheeks were purple with rage. “I don’t care about the drugs,” he seethed. “That only proves how stupid you are. You had a boyfriend. An American.” He struck the plexiglass and Randa reeled, nearly falling over in her seat. “If we were back in Yemen,” her brother went on, “I would kill you myself. It would be best for the family if you hang yourself from your bunk.”

She didn’t try to tell him that she’d never been intimate with Lucas and that she was, in fact, still a virgin. It wouldn’t make any difference, she knew that. It was public perception that mattered, and the shame it would bring. And she wasn’t saying her brother was totally wrong on that score. She hadn’t represented herself or her faith well. But that didn’t give him the right to threaten her.

She had not spoken to her brother since that day. She had no idea what his intentions for her might be. But she didn’t intend to give him the chance to make good on his threats.

The Phone Call

The phone rang. It was her mom, reading her mind. Randa told her she was going to skip the party.

Her mom clucked her tongue. “Nawal is your friend. She’s getting married, she wants you to celebrate with her.”

“She didn’t invite me.”

“She invited me. That means you as well.”

“What if Motaz shows up?”

“Why would he? It is a ladies party. And if he did, so what?”

“You know what. He threatened to kill me.”

“Ah, Randa! Astaghfirullah. That was in the past. All is forgiven. Anyway he never meant it. It was only his anger talking.”

Randa was not sure. Islam taught compassion and mercy, but in her native Yemen, feuds could carry on for generations. People did not forget. She voiced another of her fears: “They’ll all be judging me. The ladies.”

“Eh?” Her mother sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why should they?”

“Because I just spent the last three years-”

“No,” her mother interrupted. “We don’t speak about that. It never happened.”

“I don’t know how to talk to those people.”

“Those people?” Her mother sounded outraged. “They are your people, Randa!”

Randa sighed and shook her head. She could fight off people trying to kill her, and had done so, but she was powerless against her mother. Why was that, still?

Her mom switched to Arabic. “Give your tribe your money and blood, but give outsiders the point of a sword.”

Her mom and her proverbs. And she never used them right. “That doesn’t even fit.”

“It means do not justify yourself. The past is the past.”

“I don’t think it means that.”

“And wear something colorful. No more black like you’re going to a funeral.”

Prayer

All she had was black. What else? After three years of state-issued denim, she’d sworn she’d never wear any shade of blue again. What, then? Orange was jail jumpsuits. Red, pink, yellow, purple? What was she, a clown? Or white, like a nun, a nurse, or a virgin bride? She would laugh at that if she remembered how.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

She donned a long black skirt over black stockings, walking shoes, a long-sleeved blouse and a black sweater, and set out on foot. Her first stop was the Islamic Society masjid on Jones at Market. In the elevator she took a light black abayah from her purse and draped it over herself, covering everything but her face and hands. The masjid was on the third floor, a wide open space in which Randa could forget her problems for a time. She had rediscovered her faith in prison, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going.

She knew that was a cliche, but it was true. When every door was made of solid steel, double locked and remote controlled – Allah’s door was open. When every road was not only blocked but taken away altogether, because you were sealed in a tiny room – the road to Allah was still there. When there were no windows, and the light bulbs were turned off so that you sat in utter darkness, Allah’s light was still there.

She smiled imperceptibly, remembering the first of Ruby’s rules. Ruby, her cellmate and mentor, had developed a set of rules to survive and thrive in prison. Rule number one: only God can get you out.

Well here, she was, out, and just in time for ‘ishaa. A handful of other women were in attendance and she prayed beside them. As the Imam recited Surat Ar-Rahman, Randa searched her own heart for some sign of spring. A bit of softness, a warm breeze stirring, a melting of the ice. She found little to give her hope. Too soon, she thought. Her great fear was that her past self, the Randa who cried at the recital of the Quran, hung out with friends and gossiped or laughed about boys, or just walked down the street with a bounce in her step, happy to be alive, was gone.

The Party

Yemeni food mutabaq sandwich

Mutabaq

She took another Uber to Nawal’s house, out in the Richmond district, near the ocean. At the party she stood against the wall near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. She drank guava juice from a small glass and ate a mutabaq. At least the food was good. She hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in years.

Her mom had hugged her when she arrived, chastised her for her grim sartorial choices, then wandered off to sit and gossip with her friends.

There were at least forty women present. The younger ones danced to the sounds of A-Wa, with the occasional Ahmed Fathi song thrown in to appease the aunties. Others sat at a table around a henna artist, taking turns getting their hands and arms tattooed. A woman in an orange scarf sat on a sofa crying, while two other women flanked her, comforting her.

Nawal sauntered over to Randa and embraced her. She looked radiant in a sequined blue gown, her long black hair flowing freely, her arms hennaed up to the elbows with intricate designs. “Thanks again for the scarf. It’s lovely. You didn’t have to do that.”

“My pleasure.” Randa nodded to the crying woman. “What’s going on there?”

Nawal looked. “Oh. That’s my Tant Ruqayyah. Her husband’s been cheating on her. But she’s finally done with him. She sent him a message today, asking for a divorce. Hey.” Nawal grinned at Randa. “What’s up with the black outfit? You planning a burglary later?”

Randa bristled, pulling back. “What do you mean?”

Nawal faltered. “No. Nothing. Just a joke, Randa. What happened to you? You lost your sense of humor.” Nawal squeezed Randa’s shoulder and turned away to rejoin her friends.

Randa wanted to shrink into a corner of the room and draw the darkness around her like a cloak. Nawal’s comment stung like chili in a cut, all the more for its truth. She knew she wasn’t the fun person she’d once been. She wasn’t someone people wanted to be around. She wasn’t someone people loved.

A commotion from the direction of the entrance made her turn. The door was just around the corner and she couldn’t see what was happening. She heard a man shouting, and a woman protesting. For a second she had the irrational thought that it was her brother, come to murder her as he’d threatened to do three years ago. Then she smelled it. The stench of cigarette smoke and Drakkar. It was the man from the Uber. Suddenly she knew why the man had seemed familiar. She’d seen him with his wife at parties in the past. His name was Momo, she remembered now, and he was Ruqayyah’s husband. She remembered the text message Momo had received in the car, and his saying, “I’ll kill her.”

A woman shrieked from the doorway and the man pushed his way in. He passed by Randa, not noticing her. Her eyes shot to the man’s hands, just as Ruby had taught her. Rule thirty: watch people’s hands, not their faces.

Momo held a long butcher knife tucked low against the back of his leg. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed it. The other women were too busy scrambling to put their scarves on, now that there was a man in the room. Some were retreating quickly, heading for the bedrooms. Some of the younger ones were still dancing, oblivious. Meanwhile, Momo was making a beeline for Ruqayyah.

Ruqayyah had spotted the knife. Her eyes were locked on it as she backed up, her hands held to her mouth in horror, her face pale as the moon.

Randa moved. Dropping her plate and glass, she walked rapidly toward the food table, slipping off her sweater as she did so. Rule thirty two: anything can be a weapon. Without breaking stride she snatched up the pepper shaker and pocketed it, then grabbed two unopened soda cans. She wrapped the cans with her sweater and twisted it, gripping it by the sleeves.

Momo had almost reached Ruqayyah. He brought the knife up, aiming it at her heart. Ruqayyah stepped back, stumbled into a chair leg, and fell to the ground. It probably saved her life.

Randa was only a few feet behind Momo now. He still had not seen her. Rule thirty five: hit first and hit hard. She gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung, turning her hips, putting everything she had into it. All her frustration, fury and shame, her loneliness and self doubt. The soda cans in the sweater connected with the side of Momo’s head. There was a loud thudding sound, and Momo dropped as if a djinn had snatched his heart out of his chest. His hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground beside him. Some of the women screamed, and someone finally turned off the music.

Still clutching the sweater in one hand, Randa reached down and took Ruqayyah’s hand, helping the older woman to her feet, and helping her adjust her scarf, which had slid forward over her eyes. The auntie was stunned speechless.

Momo groaned. Randa turned to see him reach for the knife, find it, and begin to climb back to his feet. Damn. Hard-headed bastard. Reaching into her pocket, she calmly unscrewed the pepper shaker and flung the contents into Momo’s eyes. He hollered in pain and dropped the knife once more, and this time Randa kicked it away so that it skittered under the table. Once again she gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung. The cans smashed Momo square in the face. He fell backwards with a cry, blood spurting from his nose. He rolled about on the floor, clutching his face, all the fight gone out of him.

Someone seized Randa’s arm and she turned to see her mother. The woman was literally quaking with rage. “Get out of here,” she hissed. “You crazy person. Why did I think you changed? You are a majnoonah.”

Nawal was there too, her face set in stone. “You should leave,” she said. “I won’t tell the police what you did, but you should go.”

Randa didn’t argue. What did it matter? These women had their minds made up about her, as did her mother. Fine. She turned to leave. Again someone gripped her arm, but this time it was Tant Ruqayyah. The auntie pulled Randa into an embrace, then kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “You saved my life, habibti. May Allah give you life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

Nawal frowned. “What are you saying, Tant? Randa, what does she mean?”

Randa looked at her former friend. “He came here to kill her. He had a knife.” She gestured with her chin to the table. “It’s under there.”

“To kill her?” her mother said. “What nonsense is this?”

Randa smoothed Ruqayyah’s orange scarf. “Don’t worry, Tant. You’ll be fine.” She turned away, replacing the pepper shaker and dented soda cans on the table on her way out. One of the cans had punctured and was spraying soda in a fine stream. She put her sweater on and found it wet.

At the doorway, a woman was rising from where Momo had pushed her over on his way in. Thank God he hadn’t stabbed her.

Bridges

Her mother called out to her, but she let herself out. The night breeze instantly penetrated her wet sweater and raised goosebumps on her skin. Her hands were shaking badly, so she thrust them into her pockets, violating one of Ruby’s rules. In fact her entire body shook. She told herself it was just the cold.

Nawal emerged from the house and called to her, then hurried to catch up. Her friend was flustered, her cheeks red. “I’m sorry,” she said, taking Randa’s hand. “I misunderstood. You… You are a hero.”

Golden Gate Bridge at night

Randa looked away. In the distance she could see the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the night, and the dark hills of Marin County silhouetted against the sky. Bridges took you from one reality to another then back again, but what if you never wanted to go back? What if you wanted to put the past behind you forever? Was there such a thing as a one way bridge?

They said she was a villain, then a hero. Which label applied? Ex-con? Disgrace? Waitress? Yemeni, American, daughter, friend?

She returned her gaze to Nawal’s face. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”

She turned away. A light drizzle began to fall, chilling her, but somehow she’d stopped shivering. She was miles from the halfway house, but there was plenty of time left on her rec block. She would walk. The city stretched out before her like a jeweled wedding veil, the wet sidewalks shining beneath the street lamps. Appreciate the moment. Another of Ruby’s rules.

Randa walked.

THE END

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and Uber Tales – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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The Beginnings Of The Darul Islam Movement In America

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

Much of the history about Islam in United States of America and of the pioneering Muslims upon who’s shoulders we stand, has never been told. Some of them unfortunately may never be told and may die with the death of those who were there. When it comes to American Muslim history, the narratives of those who lived it is more poignant than that of those who only heard about it. As in the hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “He who is told is not like he who has seen”.

Much of what is written about Black American Muslim Sunni pioneers is written about us but not by us. 

One story that has remained largely unchronicled is that of the Darul Islam movement. Darul Islam was an early indigenous Sunni Muslim community made up of Black American Muslims and converts to Islam. At its height, it comprised 25-30 Muslim communities and masaajid across the country. It was started by Rajab Mahmood and Yahya Abdul-Karim, who were formally attendees of the famous State Street Mosque in Brooklyn, New York in the Atlantic Ave area west of Flatbush. The State St, Mosque which was started by was Dawud Faisal, a Black man who came to the United States from the Caribbean to pursue a career in jazz music, became a beacon for early Muslim immigrants as there was already a spate of Arab businesses along Atlantic Ave near third street, not far from the Mosque. My father used to take us to Malko Brothers bakery on Atlantic Ave in the early sixties where we would buy pita bread and halal meat from one of the other stores. It was one of the few places you could buy pita bread on the East Coast and there was no such thing as a halal store in America then.  

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Partially because Shaykh Dawud was black, and perhaps because of his jazz background and affiliation, the Masjid also attracted Black American converts to Sunni Islam. Many early Sunni Muslims were associated with and came from jazz musicians.  The Legendary John Coltrane was reported to have been a Muslim, he was married to a sister named Amina and his daughter was named Na’eema. My father performed her marriage in New York in the 1980’s. It’s rumored that he never publicized his Islam because it would have damaged his career as it had done to so many others. Hajj Talib Dawud, who started a masjid in Philadelphia (not related to the Darul Islam movement), used to be a trumpet player for Dizzy Gillespie. 

Meanwhile, , there was a chasm between immigrant Muslims who were new to the country. Converts to Islam, who were overwhelmingly Black, were new to Islam.  In 1960, Shaykh Dawud hired a teacher who was Hafiz al-Quran named Hafiz Mah’boob — he was associated with the Tabligh Jamaa’ah movement— but he was Black or looked black. The young African American converts, Rajab Mah’mood, Yahya Abdulkarim, Suleiman Abdul-Hadi (my uncle and one of the founding members of The Last Poets), Muhammad Salahuddin, and others. were drawn to him, He was “down” with educating the brothers from America and he used to teach them Arabic and Islam. It was a different time then and the immigrant, mainly Arab Muslims, and the Black American converts to Islam were from two different worlds. There was an unspoken uneasiness. Eventually Hafiz Mah’boob suggested that the African American brothers go and start their own masjid.

Rajab Mah’mood and Yahya AbdulKarim eventually left the State Street Mosque and started their own Masjid in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods, they named it Yasin Mosque, and that was the beginning of the Darul Islam Movement in the United States. That’s also just the beginning of the story.

I was born and raised a Sunni Muslim in Philadelphia, PA; my parents converted to Islam in the 1950’s.

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

History matters. 

Taken from the Upcoming Book. “The History of the Darul Islam Movement in America” 

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